Today (as in 3 days ago when I started writing this post!) I was cleaning out my closets. Get excited for a stimulating post about that! I got to the top shelf of my guest bedroom closet and I found my Africa letters. How is it possible that one of the events that defined who I am happened almost 9 years ago?!
See the "dear EJ" letter? I am a horrible person and am only fully realizing it now. That was from R.
I dated R for a short time between Z and a bunch of other people before V. I met R through my college roommate H. She was dating (and later married) his brother. From Canada. He was a baseball player and traveled to the states pretty often. We had briefly met when he was in town. After that we started emailing. Then we started IM'ing. Then talking on the phone. Then he came to visit for a week. We fit a ton into the week. We went to baseball games, went downtown, to amusement parks, etc. He came the week before I went to Africa. I wanted to see him but I also wanted to spend time with my family and my other friends. I'd never been on a plan pre-Africa. I was convinced I'd die on a plane crash on my way there or something and never make it home. I wanted my "last days" to be memorable. R was not good at sharing and got very jealous. Despite this, when he asked me on his trip if I'd be his girlfriend I agreed. By the end of the week I felt dread in my stomach. Dread that I'd agreed to something all wrong. Dread that I was going to be in a plane crash. Dread that I would be in Africa for the rest of my life or that I'd hate my time there.
My dad went along to drive R to O'Hare Airport. I am from the south side. I only drove to Midway by myself! As we left him there he gave me all kinds of great goodbye gifts and thank you gifts for my family. I felt worse. We left him there and I got back into the car with arms full of gifts and bawled. Big shock! This was in my pre-crying days though and a little more unusual than now! My dad then started a tradition that still makes me smile and brings me comfort. He took me to Ikea Cafe. Over meatballs and chocolate cake my dad calmed me down. He told me that it had been a long week and I was full of all kinds of emotions because of R, because of my trip, etc. He said not to make any quick decisions about R. I was given the gift of a summer with no phones. No email. Just letters. Let the summer happen and see where it took us...
R wrote me all of these begging letters. "If you get one call at the airport on a layover call me." So I did. I wanted to talk to my family but talked to him. I wanted to dump him during the phone call. But I remembered Ikea cafe and kept calm. There wouldn't be any more phone calls. Just letters. Then I didn't even have letters. Once I got to Mozambique my mail was affected by the mail strike. Some people that I was with got mail every week when Simon drove to Zimbabwe to pick up our mail. Some didn't. I didn't the entire time! I got 3 letters. None from R. None from my family. That was seriously hard.
The good thing about feeling completely alone is that you need to grab on to something. So I grabbed onto Africa.
I "learned" the language.
I loved their babies. And there mommas.
I learned their songs.
I held their hands.
I loaded their bricks onto trucks. These bricks would build their orphanage.
I learned their stories.
I visited their houses.
I prayed for things I didn't know existed before. Like shirts that fit. 2 shoes instead of one. That kids wouldn't be orphaned. That nobody went to sleep hungry. That someone's malaria wouldn't be too bad. I prayed a lot.
I learned how to go to the bathroom with goats watching.
I learned that African sunsets are the best. I also learned that they look just like the ones on the Lion King.
I learned to cook their food. Outside.
I wore their clothes.
I loved these people.
They loved me too.
That trip will forever change me.
When I got to Ethiopia for my final 2 weeks I had lots of mail waiting for me. More than anyone else! R had sent me pictures and letters. I got scared. What if he was at the airport? What if he'd written in Mozambique and told me he'd loved me? Ugh. All of my Ikea cafe feelings were back. I had a layover in New Jersey before Chicago. I finally got to speak to my family! I called collect at the airport. It was amazing! I remember making it a point to say "if R is going to be at the airport tell him to go back to Canada. I don't want him there. I just want my family."
When I got back I was so confused. We didn't have much food on the trip. I was always hungry. I had probably lost about 10 pounds right away. Whenever we'd eat we'd inhale whatever was there. Then starve and repeat. I was told that my body had gone into starvation mode and had started to hold onto anything it could. I gained weight like crazy when I got back. I still eat like I'm afraid I'll never have food again. I only went through this for 3 months. I can't imagine how people that have suffered through that for years can handle it! My clothes all felt weird.
It felt weird to have clothes. And showers. And a bed. And a washing machine. And people that spoke English. I went through major culture shock. Major body shock. Major joy. Major sadness. Major smothering. Major loneliness. I moved into my college apartment the day after I got home. This probably made it all worse. I can say that that year I was lonelier and more confused than I ever have been at any other time in my life. My friends that knew me all said I was different and they were distant.
I moved in and didn't call R. I hadn't called R the night before when I'd gotten home. Monday when classes started I didn't call R. I didn't call him on Tuesday. Or Wednesday. Finally on Thursday H came to me and asked me to call R. He was very anxious to talk to me. I finally called. He was excited. He was confused. I had no emotion. I was a professional dumper back then. R started the cycle. I was done. Any feelings I had were shut off. I was 100% selfish and thinking about how I didn't want to hear about how he felt. I didn't think he should have made me call him. I didn't want to know him. I was sad too. About Africa. Not him. I don't remember what was said. I remember he was confused and very sad. I remember he begged a little. I remember him saying something like "I'm not going to beg you" before he begged and me thinking "so don't beg then. Leave me alone and let me hang up."
I had no heart. Not for him at least. I remember a few months later sending an email forward to a group of people. I thought I was being nice by including him. He emailed me back and asked me to please not email him again. I remember being so offended because I was being nice to him. He should feel glad I remembered him.
How was I so changed by one life event and one experience but that change didn't bleed into how I treated R?
I still don't know. I dated circles around everyone after that for awhile and didn't get close with anyone.
Then I lost someone I loved. He didn't want me enough to listen to my begging and change. V wouldn't have kids for me. Then I got it. Then I realized how I'd led R on and then broke his heart and many others (how cocky does that sound?). I started to apologize. I started with N. That's where I stopped. I told him how sorry I was for my lack of compassion, etc. via email. He quickly responded and asked me out and to start over again. No thank you!! I stopped emailing and apologizing. I decided to focus on now. I decided I would beg. I would beg to be part of any relationship that made me feel alive. I would be pathetic. I wouldn't throw low blows. If I didn't feel it I wouldn't fake it. I would always remember how it felt to be on the other side. I refuse to look back with regrets.
I learned a lot 9 years ago. I found myself and lost myself all over again. I found out that your life can be changed and some of the worst parts of you can still remain. I lost love in Canada and I found it in Africa.